Fifteen fewer guns are on the streets of Washington, D.C., thanks to Got Guns?, a Metropolitan Police Department program that offers cash rewards to anonymous callers who give police tips on where they can find illegal firearms.
According to the program’s records, obtained by the AFRO through a Freedom of Information Act request, in its first two months the initiative has led MPD to confiscate 14 illegal firearms from Aug. 23 through Oct. 9. A 15th firearm was also seized through the program recently, a police official said. The seized weapons include eight handguns, three assault rifles and three shotguns. Public safety experts and community activists say the program deserves credit for potentially saving lives.
“Ten of the 14 recovered guns are typical weapons being commonly used in assault and robbery cases,” said retired MPD Chief of Detectives Wyndell Watkins, now a private investigator and personal safety expert who reviewed the list of confiscated guns for the AFRO.
“Seldom are rifles being used for the aforementioned crimes,” Watkins said.
“Therefore, the recovery of these weapons makes for a safer neighborhood.”
Ronald Moten, cofounder of the anti-violence organization Peaceaholics, voiced similar thoughts. “I think anytime that you get guns that work out of the hands of people it’s a potential life saved,” Moten said. He added, however, that he would also like to see an increased focus on the mentality and socioeconomic issues that lead to gun violence in the first place.
The Got Guns? program has yielded more than just guns. According to the records obtained by the AFRO, six felony arrests were made as a result of the 14 initial gun seizures, and roughly $60,000 in illegal drugs were also seized.
The Got Guns? initiative is just one of dozens of such programs throughout the United States.
Daniel Webster, professor and co-director at the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, says it’s difficult to gauge the effectiveness of these programs because they haven’t been evaluated.
Webster says the “no snitching” ethic pervasive in urban cities, as well as concerns about the risks associated with making tips, stop many people from using the tip lines.
“To make this work, I think you need to develop trusted community partners who push the initiative rather than having it just be a (police) program,” Webster said. “It’s not just arresting people that makes a difference, it’s the communication of the risks associated with carrying illegal guns that makes a difference.”
Webster said a downside of programs like Got Guns? is that they could lead to more innocent young Black men being targeted for enforcement. “On the other hand, it’s these same young Black men who are at greatest risk for being shot,” Webster said. “If the program works, fewer young Black men will be shot.”
Police officials say they have no doubt that the weapons seized through the program would have soon been used to harm someone soon. “I guarantee you at least one of those 15 guns would have been used in the next year in some type of crime,” said MPD Inspector Brian Bray, who oversees the Got Guns? program as commanding officer of the department’s Narcotics and Special Investigations Division.
Got Guns? is funded with a $20,000 grant from Crime Solvers of Washington, D.C. Thus far, $3,000 in cash rewards have been paid to citizens for the tips that led to the MPD retrieval of the guns. The cash rewards have ranged from $100 to $1,000, according to MPD, although, mathematically, it appears the average tip is in the $200 to $300 range. The rewards depend on the type of weapon recovered and the circumstances, Bray said.
“Probably before the year is up, the money will be gone,” Bray said, explaining that MPD is hoping for donations from various foundations to continue the program.
Bray said the program has also enabled MPD to develop more street-level intelligence through confidential informants. “Some of the best work in the department, we wouldn’t be able to do without people in the community,” Bray said of the informants, often referred to contemptuously as “snitches” by some segments of society.
Despite the pervasiveness of the anti-snitch subculture, MPD wants to keep the Got Guns? program high in the public’s mind.“If you don’t keep advertising the program, people forget about it or it loses focus, and your tips drop considerably over time,” Bray said.
For more information about the program, visit: www.mpdc.dc.gov/guntips; or to report a firearm, call: 1-888-919-CRIME (2746).